Welcome to draft season! This is the third of 11 positional breakdowns leading up to the NFL draft (April 29-May 1). Here are my top 10 running backs:


1. Travis Etienne (Sr., Clemson, 5-foot-10, 215 pounds)

Etienne is a three-time All-American who is one of only six players in FBS history to have at least 70 career rushing touchdowns. If he beats you to the perimeter, you're not going to catch him. He has developed into a weapon out of the backfield, but he still needs to improve his blocking. Projected: 1st or 2nd round

2. Najee Harris (Sr., Alabama, 6-1, 232)

Harris improved every season in Tuscaloosa and he was the No. 1 running back recruit in the nation when he got there. He lacks home run juice, but he's a three-down stud with dependable hands and upside in pass-protection. Projected: 1st or 2nd round

3. Javonte Williams (Jr., North Carolina, 5-9, 212)

Williams wields the hammer of Thor in his stiff-arm — he led the FBS in broken tackles (47) and first-down carries (72) in 2020. He was a linebacker-turned-running back as a senior in high school so there's still room to develop. Projected: 2nd round

4. Kenneth Gainwell (So., Memphis, 5-8, 201)

Gainwell is a one-year starter due to opting out of the 2020 season after four members of his family died from COVID-19-related issues. There's more than enough tape from his highly-productive freshman season to prove his dynamism and versatility. He had five offensive plays of 60-plus yards in 2019 and is a threat lined up in the slot or out wide. He wasn't asked to block much though. Projected: 2nd or 3rd round

5. Michael Carter (Sr., North Carolina, 5-7, 201)

Carter wins with patience and excellent vision. He's slightly undersized and is more quick than fast, but he's an asset as a receiver. His awareness in pass-protection is impressive. Projected: 2nd to 4th round

6. Trey Sermon (Sr., Ohio St., 6-0, 215)

Sermon's above-average vision and agility was on display during the Buckeyes' playoff run. He only has two career fumbles and none since 2018. There are durability concerns: he cracked a vertebrae just above his tailbone (2015), tore the LCL in his left knee (2019) and dislocated the SC joint in his left shoulder on the first play of the national title game against Alabama (January). Projected: 3rd or 4th round

7. Chuba Hubbard (Jr., Oklahoma St., 6-0, 210)

This Canadian native was a highly decorated sprinter in high school and had a historically good sophomore season in Stillwater. He's gone if you give him daylight. Otherwise, he isn't all that elusive and he fumbled 11 times in college. Projected: 3rd to 5th round

8. Khalil Herbert (Sr., Virginia Tech, 5-8, 210)

Almost 57% of Herbert's 1,182 rushing yards came after contact in 2020. He had 500 touches in his collegiate career and fumbled once. He's an inexperienced receiver and blocker. Projected: 4th to 6th round

9. Rhamondre Stevenson (Sr., Oklahoma, 5-11, 231)

Stevenson is a big athlete with only 193 touches at the FBS level, so there's plenty of tread left on the tires. Projected: 4th or 5th round

10. Jaret Patterson (Jr., Buffalo, 5-6, 195)

Patterson doesn't have the ideal size or speed of an early-down option, but his legs never stop churning and he exhibits elite balance/footwork — he averaged 4.9 yards per carry after contact in 2020. Projected: 4th to 6th round

BONUS. Jermar Jefferson (Jr., Oregon St., 5-10, 206)

Jefferson was a highly-productive player — top five in school history in rushing yards (2,923), rushing touchdowns (27) and 100-yard rushing games (15) — with a penchant for breaking off big plays (he had runs of 65, 75 and 82 yards in 2020). He needs to improve his ball security and technique in pass-protection. Projected: 4th or 5th round

BONUS. Kylin Hill (Sr., Mississippi St., 5-10, 214)

Hill is an aggressive, powerful runner who had a productive career in the SEC. He finished with 471 straight touches without a fumble. Projected: 4th to 7th round

BONUS. Javian Hawkins (So., Louisville, 5-8, 183)

Hawkins is an elusive playmaker — he had three runs of 70-plus yards in 2020 — who could carve out a change-of-pace role in the NFL. Projected: 4th to 6th round


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